Review and photos by Mabel Luong
“We’ve been around this lot twice and I still can’t find a parking spot!”
It was a Saturday evening and the third day of S. Albert’s Enjoy Light Festival (ELF), and there were cars as far as the eye could see in the Enjoy Centre’s lot. My fiancé Daniel and I eventually found parking and went in…or tried to.
The entrance that said “Event Entrance” above the double-doors, nearest the mouth of the parking lot and the event, was inaccessible—the doors were locked. Instead we went to another door aways away, still on the same side of the building, and through a greenhouse before reaching the actual event entrance. But even from outside, I could see the glow of beautiful multi-coloured lights that warmed my heart on sight, and it was exciting.
As we approached, we could hear the Christmas music playing, and upon stepping in the holiday cheer could be felt. Many small Christmas trees hung from the ceiling in rows, like a bunch of cute festive chandeliers. Along the left wall were food stalls, which were part of “Santa’s Kitchen”, and included booths like Zaika Bistro selling butter chicken, samosas and naan, and Santa’s Snack Shack, which had hot dogs, corn dogs, chicken fingers, and fries. It all smelled delicious, and the variety was nice.
On the other side was the ELF Taphouse, which served hot chocolate, coffee, sparkling juices, and a variety of beers. Those drinks were also served at other cute little Christmassy booths around the event, such as Prancer’s Pub, the Gingerbread Café, and the Fireside Social Hall. I never got anything though.
At the end of the hall, there was a stage with a few tables set up in front of it for live performances, and on either side of the stage were little snowman bands made of light. And in the centre of it all was a large Christmas tree—different from a tree in the traditional sense, as it consisted of a tree-shaped frame with strips winding around it, lined with tiny golden lights, with the star on top and the strips themselves studded with lights. It looked very inviting and was reminiscent of candlelight.
The entrance to the actual light displays looked very fancy—sheer white curtains framed the doorway, and a wide red carpet led into the room, with walls of soft-golden light on either side, and nets of scattered lights dangling partway into the entrance. Globes made of tiny white lights also dangled from the ceiling just inside the entrance.
At the end of the red carpet was the thing that had caught my eye from outside, a tunnel made of strips of multi-coloured lights that looked like a rainbow—aptly named Whimsy Way. In the tunnel were benches, perfect places to take photos, and they were often occupied. I couldn’t blame them—it was stunning.
The place was split into different sections with different themes and matching decorations and walking into each new section felt like wandering into another part of the North Pole. Candyland was full of multicolour unicorns prancing, glowing lollipops, candy canes, gingerbread, bears and ballerinas. It also had lovely booths to take photos, and a very kind volunteer offered to take pictures of me and Daniel, which turned out very nicely. Mascots like Minnie Mouse, Paw Patrol characters, Wreck-It Ralph and Woody from Toy Story were also wandering around, interacting with the multitudes of excited children. There was even a whimsical little train making its rounds, charming with its icing decorations, lights on the front of the cars, and along the bottom trimming. “It’s so cute!” I squealed to Daniel.
The Arctic Circle was full of white lights, full of snow-covered trees, polar bears, seals, narwhals and igloos. The ground was white too and looked like it was blanketed with snow, which I found charming. “The animals are cute!” I justified to Daniel as he followed me while I took pictures of everything I saw.
The Enchanted Forest had deciduous trees with leaves of warm golden light, willow trees with trailing lights like dripping snow crystals, large blooming red flowers on vivid green leaves, and woodland creatures poised as if in their natural habitat. Naturally, I had to snap more pictures of the animals, as well as a few close-ups of the trees.
The Snowflake Exchange was a place for people to purchase souvenirs and other goods—umbrellas, glowing wands, stuffed animals, Santa hats, and ELF merchandise like sweaters, toques, and scarves. There weren’t many people here—perhaps distracted by all the lights, which was understandable.
I think my favourite part was Comet’s Cove, with its strips of off-white LED lights that trailed from the ceiling. I felt as though I were frolicking in a maze of light, and I had a lot of fun documenting my journey through in a video. “Look up,” Daniel urged me as I was about to wander off after stepping out from the light strips. “Isn’t it beautiful?” When I looked up, I agreed without hesitation; the lights reflected from the glass ceiling, especially with the evening sky visible, appeared like a meteor shower close enough to touch. It was breathtaking.
We found ourselves back in crowded Candyland once I had finished taking lots of photos of the other, more sparsely populated places. There were still children everywhere, taking photos with mascots in Santa’s sleigh, while Santa himself was having his photo taken with other children in Santa’s Workshop. More were playing in Aurora Park, which featured a light-up dance floor, colour-changing seesaws, and glowing swings. It was all very cute, but not as appealing to an adult such as myself.
“I think we’ve seen everything,” Daniel remarked.
“There’s still another place on the other side that we haven’t seen, past the food places and stuff,” I insisted. “Let’s go there.”
It turned out that that was Little’s Land, which was home to three bouncy castles and a craft station. I had to concede that Daniel was right.
“There’s not much to do here for us besides looking at lights. This place seems like it’s more geared towards kids,” he commented.
“But the lights were really pretty,” I added.
“The lights were nice,” he agreed. High praise coming from him, I think.
The tickets had been a little pricey, but I loved the lights so much and it was all so wonderfully set up and charming that I believed it was well worth it. I was given the impression that a lot of thought, time, and effort had been put into it, and it very much seemed like a labour of love. I left feeling happy, my spirits lifted by how cheery everything was there, satisfied by all the amazing light displays.
The event runs until January 5, every day except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays, at the Enjoy Centre, located at 101 Riel Drive in St. Albert. Tickets are $20.95 for adults, children and seniors $10.95, while kids age 3 and under get in for free. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door, and discounts are offered for group bookings.